Resilient Neighborhoods: Here are some of the surprises to be found at Woodbridge's pocket parks

Jeremy Damaske, a longtime resident of Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood and the founder of Pie-Sci Pizza, has been pleased to observe a dramatic turnaround over the last few years at Scripps Park.

Located at the corner of Trumbull and Grand River Avenues, Scripps Park was originally set up  as a garden near the residence of Detroit News co-founder GeorgeScripps Park (WND) Booth during the latter half of the 19th Century. The site was later donated to the city of Detroit, and the park and a public library were built at the site. Over the decades the brick walls around the park began to fall into disrepair and the area became blighted. 

In 2018, however, the city of Detroit undertook an extensive renovation of the 1.25-acre park. Much to Damaske's approval, the walls were repaired and new playground features and walkways were installed.

"It was kind of rundown," he says. "But they did a really nice remake on it. They put play equipment in. They did a whole bunch of landscaping with tons of new beautiful bushes and plants and fixed the facade. Now, this is  the way it should be."

While he admits the park can get a little cluttered with litter after big events, Damaske feels the city does a good job of maintaining the site. When his family goes down to Scripps, his kids like to play on the swings and a spinning globe. He's also appreciative of programming like arts and crafts days and yoga that are put on there by a local nonprofit called Woodbridge Neighborhood Development (WND). Damaske feels these sentiments are broadly shared in the community.

"My neighbors love going down there using the play equipment," he says, "Within a 20-block radius of my house, there's easily 20-plus kids over five years old. It's a great addition to the neighborhood."

Art and Flowering Meadows

While Damaske has visited Scripps Park many times over the years, he was surprised to learn the neighborhood has another pocket park located at theAva Landgraf (Detroit Audubon) intersection of Bryant and Vermont streets. Encompassing just under half an acre, Bryant-Vermont Park is small in size, but WND has been partnering up with other local groups to turn it into an attraction in its own right. 

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this endeavor is the work the city of Detroit and Detroit Audubon are doing to turn the space into an "intentional meadow". The collaboration there is part of a larger citywide effort called Detroit Bird City aimed at reinvigorating under-used parks by turning them into low-maintenance habitats for birds and other pollinators. 

Other Detroit Bird City sites in Detroit include Callahan Park, Palmer Park, Lifsitz Park, McKinley-Merrick Park, and Riverside Park. 

The transformation of these sites has involved a combination of community engagement; the restoration of native flower meadows; the installation of signs, benches, and pathways; and educational and conservation events.

Detroit Audubon began working with WND at Bryant-Vermont Park in 2019. Since that time the collaboration has grown to include walking tours from Scripps Park to Bryant-Vermont Park.

"We provide binoculars, walk through the neighborhood and talk about whatever birds and other parts of nature that we come across," says Detroit Audubon research coordinator Ava Landsgraf. "On one walk we saw a family of Cooper's Hawks. The young birds had recently left the nest and you could tell they were a little clumsier than the parents."

These efforts to enhance the site have been supplemented by the participation of Spread Art, a Shiva Shahmir (Spread Art)nonprofit arts incubator located just across the street from Bryant-Vermont Park. The organization has participated in volunteer day events and worked with Josh Kochis, an artist with a longtime connection to its gallery, to create an installation for the park.

"WND and Detroit Audubon have been very gracious in including Spread Art in the planning and designing of the Bryant-Vermont Park from the beginning,"  says Shiva Shahmir, Director of Spread Art. "After the path had been laid, I had initially put up a piece of Josh Kochis's that he had left behind after his residency near the entrance, leaning on the shrubs and trees and so I thought his work would be so perfect for the park given that he works so much with natural wood materials and motifs."

Additional park enhancements

Both Bryant-Vermont and Scripps are now in the process of getting some additional upgrades, thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Gilbert Family Foundation. TheRieanna Stewart (Nick Hagen) enhancements include a reading nook and additional furniture for Scripps and a picnic table for Bryant-Vermont. Money from the grant will also go towards program promotion and staff support for the nonprofit. 

"What we were looking for was collaborative park furniture for our local city parks," says Rieanna Stewart, WND's Director of Programs and Communications. "We wanted to have just some more active spaces. And things that allow people to adapt to our events that we host most readily and quickly."

The nonprofit is currently working with a custom steel fabricator to design the reading nook.

"It's essentially expanding on the idea of little free libraries that you see around town," says Stewart. "We will be building a dedicated installation, so that we can have space for books and then a little bench where people can sit and read and also protect all of the books from any weather."

The nook is a feature that residents and librarians at the Douglass Branch of the Detroit Public Library, located next to Scripps Park, have been requesting for several years. It will be placed near an existing reading rock circle and is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Scripps will also be getting 20 black Senat-style chairs and six blue tables purchased from Furniture Designhouse. WND became interested in getting lightweight rearrangeable furniture for the park after borrowing some bistro chairs and tables from Wayne State for a neighborhood festival in 2018. 

The new picnic table at Bryant-Vermont Park is intended to give residents additional space to enjoy the meadow and the birds that congregate there. It's slated to be in place by the end of the year.

While he's just hearing about the new enhancements to the parks, Damaske feels they're welcome additions to the neighborhood. 

"I'm all for it," he says. "Anything that's going to promote cleaning up, getting rid of blight, and just making these habitable places that are fun to bring families and kids, I support all that." 

WNDC events at Scripps Park are currently over for the year. Activities are expected to resume in Spring 2023. 

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the
 Kresge Foundation.
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Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.